I Like to Watch

How can you survive in a world where Farrah Fawcett and Lizzie Grubman have their own TV shows? Here's one quick, easy, do-at-home step to solve any existential crisis!

By Heather Havrilesky
Published March 28, 2005 9:00PM (EST)

Everything good is bad for you
Do you ever feel like you're living in an upside-down world, where everything that's good and beautiful and special is disparaged, discarded and spat upon, and everything that's crappy and hideous and lame is embraced, adored and merchandised within an inch of its life?

Well, you are. And just in case the omnipresence of Nicole Richie, she of the brand-new head and body, weren't enough to convince you of this, guess which convicted felon has her own show on MTV?

Lizzie Grubman, of course. And is there anyone less made-for-TV than Lizzie Grubman?

1) I know this is really mean, but some people really weren't born to work in front of the camera. You know, because they have no eyebrows? Lizzie could really use a brand-new head. Maybe she can find out where Nicole got hers.

2) Lizzie allegedly ran over some people in her SUV. Now, do we really want the children of America to think that it's okey-dokey to run over people in an SUV? No, we don't want that, even when they're in the Hamptons. Thanks to Lizzie -- and Martha Stewart, who's set to be featured on the next season of "The Apprentice" -- kids will see that committing felonies isn't just fun, it can land you your very own TV show!

3) Lizzie's job is to host events that look good in magazines but are basically staged for the benefit of the press. Newsflash: This is not a glamorous job. I don't care how many times you get a quick hug from P. Diddy, these parties are not fun. The ice mountain covered in sushi is nice, don't get me wrong, but the rest is a drag -- long lines of bozos at the front, long lines of zeros at the bar, long lines of dodos squished into the VIP room and no one with a thing to say beyond "Where's Paris?" It's like going to a really tacky wedding reception populated by guests with the intelligence of refrigerator magnets, plus you don't know the bride or the groom, and instead of one photographer, there are 50.

Anyway, needless to say, "PoweR Girls" is about as entertaining as a badly written press release, Lizzie is a scary human inside and out, and the sad little minions who work for her are absolutely depressing, running around in circles with their little lists, imagining that they're big shots. I know, it sounds vaguely appealing, but it's not. Aspiring models and starlets: laugh-out-loud funny. Aspiring publicists: slit-your-wrists sordid. Spending time with Lizzie and friends is like being hazed by a room full of deranged, anemic sorority girls. I know, it sounds vaguely sexy, but it's not.

Driving Miss Crazy
And speaking of pallid little tarts who don't make good television, Farrah Fawcett's new reality show, "Chasing Farrah" (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land), may just be the worst thing on TV right now. Instead of offering those tightly edited highlights that gave MTV a franchise in insipid programming, TV Land prefers long, empty scenes of Farrah having stilted, self-conscious conversations with her stylist, her friend Alana Stewart and anyone else who wanders through. The second episode is even worse: First we watch an extended improv of Farrah and a flushed-looking Ryan O'Neal trying desperately to embody the phrase "frolicking on the beach." Later, they have a stilted, self-conscious conversation over dinner, occasionally teasing each other showily for the benefit of the film crew. Remember when your parents, who hated each other, used to pretend to find each other charming when they had company over? It's kinda like that.

After dinner, Farrah awkwardly stands up and starts dancing to Meredith Brooks' "Bitch" ("I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm a roasted beet salad ..."). Remember when your mom, upon hearing you play the single "Upside Down" by Diana Ross, would disco her way into the room, and you'd beg her to stop, but she'd show no mercy? It's kinda like that. Eventually Ryan joins her in a semidirty dance that is, frankly, about as sexy as watching your grandparents dry-hump. If you ever suspected that being a big star was glamorous and special, "Chasing Farrah" is sure to set you straight.

The wheels sure are coming off the celebrity wagon these days, huh? A working actress I know was just telling me that casting directors usually bypass intelligence and talent in favor of those people who stay in the headlines by doing idiotic things like getting drunk or sleeping with other people's spouses. Farrah is a great example of this. Beyond the posters and a few good roles a long time ago, what's kept this woman in the tabloids? Nudity, spaced-out behavior during public appearances and some high-profile breakups.

Farrah seems to have little of interest to say or do in front of the camera, and when you throw in Grubman and Kirstie Alley, whose show, "Fat Actress," has gone from hilarious to awful in just a few episodes, you have to wonder why TV producers are so intent on killing the golden goose by showing us exactly how dull and pathetic most celebrities really are. Better cancel that meeting with the TV execs and schedule another photo shoot with InStyle magazine instead. After all, I'm pretty sure there are places in Hollywood where you can rent golden retrievers and eclectic flea market finds; renting a lively personality is a little tougher.

Porn on the Fourth of Julie
Speaking of tough, my e-mail was flooded last week thanks to my (admittedly lazy) comment that the title of the '80s porno that Julie Cooper on "The O.C." starred in, "The Porn Identity," was a lazy choice. Yes, I knew about Robert Ludlum's book, published 1980, but I still thought it was a crappy title, since the show's audience would be far more familiar with the 2002 movie starring Matt Damon than they would with a book. True, I was unaware of the 1988 TV movie starring Richard Chamberlain, but if that were the main reference, then Julie Cooper would've had to have shot the porno while she was pregnant, breast-feeding or raising a toddler, assuming Marissa is about 16 or 17 years old.

Ah, but in the end, one very wise reader pointed out that the reference was a shout-out to Doug Liman, who directed the 2002 version and was an executive producer on the first season of "The O.C." (Lovin' the head shot, Doug -- is that a sultry still from your turn as a dancer on "Staying Alive"?)

And as long as public shout-outs are all the rage again, let me take this opportunity to give a hollah out to my girls Keheh and Princess C in the L. Felizzle, and mad props to Dr. Bizzle and Big Tashy, rollin' it preggy-style on the West Side! Hells yeah. Also, word to little Bea, tossin' out some mad spittle drizzle in the Silver Lizzle!

Suicide is painless
Boxing, on the other hand, is very painful -- so is watching Najai Turpin, the boxer on "The Contender" who committed suicide this past Valentine's Day. First, Najai tells "den mother" Jackie Kallen that he doesn't trust anyone. Next, he tells the camera that he has "a lot of pain inside." Then he tells us about how much he loves his 2-year-old daughter, Anyae. Finally, he loses his match, and the music that's playing as he exits the gymnasium is downright macabre.

But I find the closing moments of this show extremely depressing no matter what lies ahead for the boxers who lose. Unlike the yuppies on "The Apprentice" or the chipper type-A types of "The Survivor," these guys have pegged all their hopes on boxing, and this is their one big shot.

And isn't it more than a little haunting how they all say they're doing it for their families? Not one of the boxers has said, "I just love to box, pure and simple" or "The thrill of the fight -- that's what keeps me in the sport!" Instead, they're completely focused on trying to earn enough money to help out their families, either their wives and kids, or their mothers, or both.

Sergio, the guy who beat Najai in last week's episode, was particularly touching. Once he was done quoting Oscar Wilde and talking about the Russian and German literature he's read, he couldn't stop raving about his love for his mom. "I'm not gonna complain about the chips my mom was dealt," he told the camera through tears. "She's a poor and lonely single mom; there are moms like that all over the world." He just wants to help her out, that's all! Sniff.

I'm wondering, though: Is it just the way the show is edited, or is boxing the most unpleasant sport in the known universe? Maybe someone who knows a little bit about boxing will write to me and let me know if boxing is enjoyable at all, or if it's just as torturous as it looks. From what I can gather, all kinds of mental and emotional gymnastics are required just to get into the ring, and a boxer's attitude seems to be a major predictor of whether he wins or not. But do you have to be half-crazy like Mike Tyson to win consistently? What about Muhammad Ali, a seriously smart guy with the kind of self-confidence and flair that come around once every few decades -- how did he manage his emotions under those conditions?

Tastes like chicken
Apparently I should've managed my emotions when I declared Cartoon Network's "Robot Chicken," which plays during the "Adult Swim" segment, "savory." The stop-motion sketch show, created by Seth Green and Matt Senreich, is sometimes very funny. In fact, it's often very funny, inexplicably so. Like when a bunch of goblins and bad guys are sitting in traffic, getting angry that the guy driving is in the slowest lane? Or when, in a sketch called "Oz," a scarecrow says to two friends, "OK, guys, see you back in New York ...," and then someone comes up behind him and stabs him in the chest, and it bleeds straw? That's the entire sketch. Doesn't sound very funny, does it? It's funny. I mean it.

But (sigh!) most of the sketches devolve into violence and name-calling. This is becoming a serious theme among the shows on "Adult Swim." As different as "Robot Chicken" is from the others, I still feel that, given how much creative freedom these writers have, a lot of them should be able to dream up something a little more imaginative and engaging than potty jokes, temperamental outbursts and fistfights.

But then, I have trouble dreaming up something new to eat for breakfast in the morning, so I really can't talk. Besides, creating something that's consistently hilarious is nearly impossible. Otherwise it wouldn't take a room full of comedy writers who bank millions of dollars a year just to make a show like "Two and a Half Men." You know, "Two and a Half Men," that smash hit comedy on CBS that you just can't miss?

Existential crisis management
Yes, everything that's sallow and obscene and feeble is adored. Everything that's wonderful and fresh and lovely is ignored. What's the answer? The easiest answer, of course, is to kill yourself right now.

Barring that, though, you're left to examine your remaining options. Should you strive to be flaccid and worthless, knowing that it will bring you love and multimillion-dollar development deals? Or should you try your best to cultivate your true talents, nurture your subtle charms, and create something original and worthwhile that's doomed to fester in obscurity, leaving you loveless and penniless, wandering the streets in last year's fashions?

It's up to you, really. No one else can make that choice for you.

Except maybe your agent. Or your manager. Yeah, just go with whatever your manager wants.

Next week: Will Tony "Tiny" Almeida stay off the bottle with Steely-eyed Al-Anon Michelle around? Will Heidi Fleiss rediscover her love for Heartless Torture Jack? Will Chloe finally get Larry Sanders on the phone and have him stop by CTU for a quick set? The suspense is killing me!

Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.

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I Like To Watch Television